Why doesn’t Apple advertise Mac OS X on TV?

By SteveJack

I understand why Apple may be reticent to advertise Mac OS X on television. Thirty seconds is too brief a time to be able to show anything of substance. And, they’ve tried the concept (with the Classic Mac OS) before in the past (even going so far as trying long-form infomercials) and it just didn’t work.

But, now, with their network of retail stores, Apple has what they never had before – highly visible places where they can direct people after they’ve whetted their imaginations with TV commercials. Not advertising Mac OS X on television now is nothing short of criminal. My hope is that, very soon, Apple will address the lack of Mac OS X advertising, particularly on TV.

I’m not suggesting that Apple try to explain why Mac OS X is better for the average personal computer user. Apple should simply be showing brief vignettes of Mac OS X doing visually appealing things that look “cool.” Yes, I’m talking pretty much all flash and no substance. Even though I hate the term I’m going to use it, Apple needs to show Mac OS X’s “eye candy.” That’s what would work and it’s really all Apple needs to show on TV. After all, why make it so beautiful if you’re not going to show it to the world? Is it just for the Mac users’ benefit or does Apple want to use it to sell more Macs?

The purpose of these commercials is not to create instant switchers who will toss out their Windows boxes for Macs. The sole purpose of these commercials is to drive people into Apple retail stores by creating curiosity. Yes, I realize that the iPod is doing a good job of driving people into the Apple stores, but a good TV campaign featuring Mac OS X would do an even better job.

How do I know it would work? Only because it does. Whenever I am on a plane or somewhere and people catch what’s happening on my PowerBook’s screen, I get questions. And the questioning means people are curious, at least it does to me.

What should Apple show on TV? Just point the camera over someone’s shoulder while they’re rippling through a Dock full of icons with Magnification on full bore. Show a Finder window Genie effecting down into the Dock and then Genie another one up in Column View. Quickly and easily navigate Column View to find a QuickTime movie. Play the movie and Genie it down into the Dock. Roll over it and show it playing in the Dock. Genie another movie window out while it’s playing and Zoom (Command-Option-+) right in to it. Fade to the Apple logo and the words “Visit an Apple Store to discover more about Mac OS X” or something to that effect. No music, just the natural sound of wherever the Mac happens to be and the audio produced by the Mac when it’s making sound. The person could be at home with the sound of a TV on faintly in the background, on a plane, on a train, in a classroom, in Starbucks, or wherever else you’d find a Mac in action.

The idea above is just an example, the point is just to show people how Mac OS X does things in “cool” ways and get them interested. These ads are not to try to show how someone can import from a DV camera to make an iMovie, burn a DVD and send it to their parents. These ads are not to show how to do anything. They’re just for show. Imagine ads with Tiger’s Dashboard Widgets, iChat AV in action, Exposé, the Fast User Switching 3-D cube effect, Heads-up Application Switcher (Command-Tab), playing The Sims, MS Word running on a Mac, etc. Just show it.

My guess is that Apple could pack a campaign of unique thirty-second ads with very compelling visuals that would really be eye openers to millions of people who are totally or mostly unfamiliar with what today’s Mac can do and get them to say “wow!” That’s exactly what happens over my shoulder or in the seat next to me in-flight. Too many people have no idea what today’s Mac is, how it looks, and how things move and act onscreen. How many people see that white Apple logo and walk right past the store in the mall thinking, “oh, the iPod store” or “that’s not really for me.”

The best advertising is deadly simple. I truly believe that if Apple would just show the gorgeousness of Mac OS X to mass TV audiences they’d increase the foot traffic in Apple retail stores with curious personal computer users who’ve never seen or imagined anything like Mac OS X before. And once Apple gets them into the Apple store, the staff can explain the substance that lies beneath the “eye candy.”

Pre-order Mac OS X Tiger today for April 29 delivery and get access to an exclusive online seminar. Free shipping. Just $129.

SteveJack is a long-time Macintosh user, web designer, multimedia producer and a regular contributor to the MacDailyNews Opinion section.

Related MacDailyNews articles:
Apple to ship Mac OS X ‘Tiger’ on Friday, April 29; pre-orders start today – April 12, 2005
Why doesn’t Apple show its patented Mac OS X ‘Genie Effect’ in TV ads? – October 07, 2004
Top Ten things Apple needs to show the world about Macintosh – July 30, 2003


  1. No doubt you’re onto something here. I wish so much that Apple would advertise Mac OS X on TV and the way you describe sounds perfect: Get them interested and finish the deal at the store.

    Apple shouldn’t be waiting for Tiger, either. They should have been advertising Jaguar (and Panther) in the way SteveJack describes since it’s release.

  2. Scott Rose,

    Hence the sentence in the article that reads, “Imagine ads with Tiger’s Dashboard Widgets, iChat AV in action, Exposé, the Fast User Switching 3-D cube effect, Heads-up Application Switcher (Command-Tab), playing The Sims, MS Word running on a Mac, etc.”

  3. 1.) That was the whole concept behind the iPod ads: show people having fun listening to music. Now look where the iPod is at compared to all the other digital music players.
    2.) Don’t leave out the website address. While there are Apple stores all over the U.S. there is still a large amount of people who live nowhere near one. The nearest Apple store to me is 300 miles away. By making reference to the website, the curious can find out everything a sales rep. could tell them, plus find the location of the nearest authorized rep.

  4. Although this is a great idea, the most impressive things that could be shown are things that everyone frets about (still). Compatibility. Yes show those wonderful things, but don’t forget to start the commercial with the user switching from MS Word into using dashboard, or genie word to the dock and then to dashboard.

    The number one problem is still the old myths . . .

    address those myths head on with some eye candy on top.

  5. As the author actually states a lot of the ‘eye candy’ and features that will wow will be with Tiger and of course Tiger isnt actually available yet. I am sorry to say that a lot of these sort of articles are written simply so the author can claim that Apple once they do advertise OSX are following their advice or stating how they anticipated Apple’s move. Timing is everything and the combination of Tiger plus the the beginnings of a movement, and technology/products to encourage movement to Mac make the next few months the ideal time to advertise the software.

    That said I do like the ideas proposed above. A campaign that comes from the same stable as the iPod ads but with their own unique style would be fantastic. They can also reflect various aspects of the sofware (maybe software/hardware combo) that not only shows the eye candy but also covers the myth busting aspects too. The nice thing about having a great theme to your ads is that many different aspects can be included while tying them all together in the same style allowing new ones to be produced all the time that follow and back up previous versions.
    This infact is the great success of the HP adverts which in itself is not without significance in the circumstances. In the next month or two I suspect a Mac/Tiger campaign will indeed be launched and then half the mac writers can congratulate themselves in the personal knowledge that Apple really does listen to them after all.

  6. It’s pretty obvious that MacDailyNews knew of Tiger’s release date and that it would be announced today before anyone else except Apple or they wouldn’t have readied the article above at 12:01am this morning:

    I wonder what else MDN knows and isn’t telling, yet?

  7. They don’t even have to dedicate a whole commercial to the computer or the OS. Most people aren’t shopping for new OS’s and many still probably don’t take Apple too serioiusly as a computer or software manufacturer. What they should do is start slowly incorporating them into the iPod commercials since everyone immediately recognizes those commercials and then they will associate their iPod with a Mac. Create something new instead of the silhouette commercials, except take five seconds to show an iMac in the background or hooked up to the iPod or something. Gradually give the computer more time in the iPod commercials and then eventually you’ll have a Mac oriented commercial that shows the iPod as merely an accessory to an existing Apple computer environment.

  8. Apple so need to have a top notch ad campaign. Hell, manufacturers are now making adverts that highlight how hard “computers” are to use in order to convince the public to buy their crappy printers etc to try and make it easier. The lexmark (I think) advert has people saying how hard it is to find their pictures and print their pictures etc. They say the answer is to get a lexmark printer with a dinky little lcd screen to effectively bypass the computer.

    My answer is always to yell at the screen “buy a mac!” followed by various expletives about crappy windows based computing. It frustrates me no end that apple have this product that rather than making a hard task easy (as windows based adverts try to tell us) is just easy in the first place.

    The only good thing about being a minority mac user in a windows world is the sense of smug superiority it gives me. I’d give that up for being a majority mac user at one with a world at peace with itself (I’m assuming majority mac use would solve most global problems)

  9. Apple needs to improve the way that they treat customers and the actual quality of products so that existing users are not considering when to leave.

    Advertising is another matter. An OS is not readily suceptible to an iPod like campaign. Although the Apple experience has always been about the OS, an OS is not exactly a sexy thing to run in ads.

    It might be more useful to run a series of (different) ‘teaser’ ads showing people doing things that are not easily done on a Wintel PC with a reference to a website movie with more information in the fashion of BMW and others which leverage their TV ad with online content.

    Still, the question is whether the ads are likely to generate revenue by sales to justify their expenditure either directly or indirectly by improving brand identification/recognition which results in increased sales. I rather doubt an extensive ad campaign would pass this test.

    The interesting thing about advertising is that there are very few circumstances where advertising can meet this test. Most companies are simply scared to death not to advertise.

    I still believe that Apple ought to have kiosks in malls to show their wares in an informal, hands on environment (and connected to the internet, unlike most CompUSA stores). The thing about the kiosks is that people who were not going to the mall to shop for computers stop by and try things they never would go into an Apple store, even if there were one in their area, to investigate. A casual sale is as good, perhaps even better, than one where the customer seeks out Apple. The kiosks should be careful to not be another effort to steal sales from the local resellers who have been the backbone of Apple sales and support for many years. If Apple kills off the resellers so that the only way to buy one is direct from them I would not be hopeful of future growth.

  10. I think the time is almost right for a large TV ad campaign from Apple. Once Tiger is out and 10.4.1 is a standard install on all the new computers, Apple should start advertising what Tiger can do. So, basically starting in May. I know several people who were waiting until Tiger was released to get a new computer. For a new user, it makes more sense to get them started after a major OS upgrade. Advertise now while Longhorn is a long way off. People looking for something new will see it available now, not next year. That will definitely be hard for them to wait and will draw in a lot of new people. I totally agree that Apple needs to advertise the cool stuff that Tiger lets you do.

  11. Seriously! I have been wondering why Apple hasn’t done this already. I mean, when OS X first came out, it pretty much sucked. But now it is really a well developed, fast, OS. It is ready for prime time. Why doesn’t Apple create the TV spots as mentioned in this article? Is Steve Jobs afraid of something? Get a clue Apple marketing!

  12. Steve Jack is only stating the obvious. We Mac users love our OS. It must be the biggest secret in the world that the best thing about the Mac is its OS. Yes, I know, Apple is a hardware company, but most Mac users still love the Mac for its OS rather than their computer looking like a blue toilet seat, or a cafeteria tray, or a box fan. Everybody loves that shiny plastic, but it’s still all about the OS.

    I’d love to see quick commercials showing off iChat AV, or Safari, iPhoto, etc. They just work so cool! We Mac users are always showing off what the Mac will do to anyone who will listen to us. It’s only natural for us to want Apple to do the same thing on TV.

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